The Ten Commandments of Athletic Development

TAGS: Eric Cressey, power, strength, training

The fitness industry is filled with proponents and opponents of every single little thing. Some love an exercise while others hate it. One group trash talks a training method or system while another worships it. In the athlete's mind, this obviously creates a lot of confusion and frustration, especially considering the fact that he will read a lot of information on the internet.

I've had the privilege of interning with Eric Cressey, Joe DeFranco, and Aaron Brooks, and I also recently visited Nick Tumminello. I've learned that they all have very unique qualities and specialties, and even though much of what they do is the same, they definitely differ in many ways as well. Still, they all produce great results.

Why argue when both are right?

Obviously, you will praise the training systems and methods that have worked wonders for you. Have you followed HIT with great results? That's what you'll recommend. It's obvious. But you know what? The person beside you who has had great results with high volume training will definitely praise the system that has worked for him! So why argue when both of you are right? As Marty Gallagher states in his brilliant book The Purposeful Primitive, “Contrast is king,” meaning when one thing stops working, the completely opposite is the way to go, creating new synthesis in body structures.

Historically, every training strategy has worked for both bodybuilders and powerlifters. Body part split? Works. Full body training? Works. High volume? Works. High intensity? Works. We can go on and on, but you will find great results in each specific “camp” if you look at the right sources. It's all in the history of the iron game. Call it “the bible” if you will. The stories are there for you to study and explore.

I don't think what type of training philosophy, methods, systems, or exercises you follow matters much at all. It's how you do what you do that matters. Yes, we've all heard it before...the talk about attitude and training environment. But you know what? It matters. A lot. That aside, here are the ten commandments of athletic development as I see it, independent of which training system you've chosen to follow.

# 1 You shall honor correct technique.

Can we agree that the first and foremost thing to respect is the way your body moves during loaded movements? I hope so because the golden rule of coaching is “do no harm.” It seems easy enough, but experience tells us otherwise. There are technical standards for every exercise and, even though we have to respect different limb lengths due to individual uniqueness, the rules are still the same. Cross this commandment and your training won't produce the desired results. Injuries and chronic pain are also waiting for you.

# 2 You shall respect your current level.

It won't be a problem for you to take your favorite athlete's training program because after respecting # 1, you can do the same exercises and methods but to what benefit? If you still can drive linear progression for a long time, do it. If you can still progress with the basic exercises, do them. You don't need rack pulls if your deadlift increases each and every session. Chain and bands are cool enough, but you probably don't need them for every exercise. And if you can't hold a good plank position, stay away from dragon flags. And why flip tires if you can't lift a barbell from the floor with correct technique?

Your current level should dictate your training programming. Of course, each of us needs variety and new inspiration, but throwing in a bunch of new tools in a training program at the same time will defeat the purpose of each and every one of them. You probably won't see your current level yourself. Few can do that and that's why we have coaches. Pick one.

# 3 You shall strive to move enough.

Move enough? Yes, move enough so that you don't lose the movement your body is capable of. I have been a big proponent of corrective exercise, but as trainers, who really cares what the problem might be if lack of movement is present somewhere? The solution is still the same. Movement. Most people don't move enough. Far from it. I like the functional movement screen, but there is one problem as I see it for trainers. You can't diagnose. However, you can find out what might be a restriction. Let's say you lack hip internal rotation. Great. You have a clue as to why you don't squat perfectly, but the solution? Isn't it a thorough warm up anyway? Isn’t hip internal rotation stretching a part of a good warm up if you've seen what some of the greatest coaches do with their athletes?

What more can you really do? Everybody needs to stretch their hip flexors and train their glutes. We need to mobilize the thoracic spine. So what difference does it make practically for trainers to know if an asymmetry is present if this shows up during the warm-up exercises? What more can you do besides actually do the exercises you're already doing to correct the problems that were already there? And if asymmetries in many cases is what makes athletes perform the way they do as Eric Cressey and Mike Reinold talk about, why try to correct it? Can it always be done anyway? Probably not.

“Use it or lose it." I think that should be the message, not correction. Strive to move enough.

# 4 You shall balance your training.

You might love the bench press. There's nothing wrong with that as long as that's not the only thing you do. Specialization is a key to further the progress within a specific skill, but it will lead you down a path of stagnation and injuries in the long term unless you're lucky. And you aren't, so let's do what you should do—balance your training. It's obvious that we need to up the workload of the posterior chain to be bigger and stronger, look great, and perform better. That being said, balance isn't only about movements. It' also about skills.

Strength and muscles are good and necessary, but what about the abilities to control deceleration of movement, speed, plyometric abilities, flexibility, and conditioning? There is so much focus on strength, which is a good thing, but it seems other qualities aren't getting the attention they deserve, especially high intensity conditioning. They should.

# 5 You shall never stop evolving.

If your train of thought is “I know it all,” you're leading yourself and your athletes down into a deep abyss. Please do yourself a favor and get out as soon as possible! Human beings adapt to stimulus. You're a human, I hope. So why would you want to keep pushing in the same direction forever when the stimulus you're creating only leads to diminishing returns?

Head in a new direction and make some changes. Nothing works forever and everything works for about 4–6 weeks. When Dan John says something along these lines, there has to be some truth to it. It doesn’t mean you shouldn't stick to a training program or diet. You should. It means you should give the body a reason to further adapt in the coming years of training. Likely that is a bunch of years, so make things possible for unlimited adaptation. You don't want to discover this truth when it's too late.

# 6 You shall prioritize strength training.

While stated in commandment #4 that different qualities are important, strength is the first and foremost quality that you have to develop and prioritize for athletic development. You won't only be stronger, but you'll also prevent injuries. This quality will also undermine the development of speed, agility, and plyometric abilities. Your sport and/or goals will obviously determine the proportions of the time used to develop different skills, but there should no longer be any need to argue whether strength should be a great factor in athletic development or not.

# 7 You shall worship the core.

The “core” in this case means abs and lower back. Whether or not you're hardcore, you should have a hard core when you move. Not only will you prevent lower back injuries, but you'll also generate more power during athletic movements. The hips won't produce maximum power if your core is weak or leaks energy by being unstable. This holds true whether we're talk about running, cutting, kicking, or punching/throwing. Basically all athletic movements require a strong core. Because all limbs attach directly or indirectly to the core and create movement from this area, it' obvious that it has to be strong and able to provide maximum support under powerful movements. You shall train stability and the ability to control movements, both slow and powerful, without compromising the integrity of a stable spine.

# 8 You shall master muscle tension.

Is flexibility important? Yes. Is static stretching important? Probably not, especially not the way most people perform static stretching. Like Pavel Tsatsouline talks about in his books, the muscles actually already have the potential length needed, but the tension we've built up during everyday tasks prevents them from reaching maximum length. This is a protective mechanism we should be thankful for because, if we've lost strength in a specific muscle length, this would be problematic, especially during heavy loading like strength training. A little static stretching won't do much with this tension, but typical “contract release” techniques plus controlled breathing is the way to go when you want to “trick” your nervous system, control tension, and increase flexibility/mobility.

# 9 You shall condition your body.

As previously stated, strength training should be a prioritized quality in most cases, but there is definitely one other critical component for most athletes and sadly a bit overlooked it seems. We're talking about conditioning. Strength and other qualities don’t matter at all if you're exhausted. You can be the most badass mofo in the gym but totally dominated on the field if you don't take this seriously. You have to ask yourself what matters the most. Probably both, right? Well, go ahead and do some serious conditioning. Some of the most effective conditioning methods and exercises are hill sprints, burpees, and pushing/pulling sleds and the Prowler. In other words, you don't really need more than your own body weight, but there are many cool tools you can use. So go ahead. Have some “fun.”

# 10 You shall believe in yourself.

If you don't believe in yourself, you might as well quit already. As Alwyn Cosgrove said, “Psychology trumps physiology every time.” There is some truth to that. We've probably all experienced breaking a new record when we thought there was less weight on the bar or done some “miraculous” feat on a day everything felt wrong. Doesn’t this prove that there is probably much more to athletic development and performance than what we've “planned?” History has shown that human psychology can beat human strength and physiology. Maybe more focus should be placed on this “element.” I'm pretty sure this will unlock “secrets” for many athletes in the future. Time will prove this right or wrong, but my vote is for the former.

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